CUMBERLAND COUNTY, Pa. — Data collected by the South Middleton School District shows that students dealing with homelessness at schools in their area have tripled over the past two years.
In May 2021, South Middleton had 16 students that met the federal criteria for homelessness under the McKinney-Vento Act. As of May 2023, the number of homeless students is at 48.
“Less than 1% of our student population were identified and now that number has grown to over 2%,” said Dr. Alex Smith, the director of student services for the South Middleton School District.
School officials say their focus to identify students who are facing homelessness during this two-year period has attributed to the jump in numbers.
“The spike in the numbers that are eligible for students experiencing homelessness is a result of purposeful efforts to identify with the outreach," said Dr. Smith. "We are [now] more likely to target those students in need.”
The rise in homelessness in the South Middleton School District also coincides with nationwide trends, such as the lack of affordable housing.
“Our community is a mosaic of rural, suburban and a touch of urban within the Carlisle area," said Dr. Smith. "So, we get a variety of these experiences and we need to do our best to improve the trajectory of our students and families.”
The district has partnered with community organizations to address the problem.
“Without our community partnerships our problems would only perpetuate,” said Dr. Smith.
One of the partnering organizations is Cumberland County's Launch Pad which provides independent living services and trauma care to kids in need in the area.
Members with the organization believe a solution is not possible without the community coming together.
“We really need to look at a community collaborative effort," said Launch Pad Executive Director Lia Fourlas. "When we all get together we can really find solutions. When we try to do it on our own it's just impossible.”
They add that making sure students facing homelessness receive an education is the first step to breaking barriers among the communities youth.
“Education is what breaks generational poverty, and that’s what breaks generational trauma, so without that education, they are really just stuck,” said Fourlas.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, nearly 34 thousand youth and children in the Commonwealth were experiencing homelessness within the 2020-2021 school year.
In a statement, the department said, “[We] take student homelessness very seriously, and we are doing everything we can to help students in this position be successful in the classroom.”